Behind A Bitter Pill… Q & A with author Tiffany Gholar

One book with four different covers is just one aspect of the special story and brilliance behind A Bitter Pill to Swallow, just released from Blurb Books as the debut novel from writer and visual artist Tiffany Gholar.

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I am behind the novel not only because Gholar is a friend from college at University of Chicago; Gholar is also an alumna of Governors State University in painting, and resident artist of The Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

For one thing, the book is a tribute to the 90s: a lesser celebrated decade not yet fully marked as a true “era.” For another, A Bitter Pill to Swallow is a literal and figurative testimony of perseverance, triumph and concern for humanity in a novel more than twenty years in its making. Lastly, Gholar’s soft and subtle advocacy for individualized talk and arts therapy versus chaotic nervous system restructuring via uniform medications can change and save many lives.

Set in Chicago, the fictitious  Harrison School for Exceptional Youth features Dr. Arthur Lutkin as the seasoned but disillusioned head of a community of young people riddled by challenges of emotional instability. He recruits Dr. Gail Thomas to join him in the school’s mission. Her fresh perspective and intentions to remain true to her social working profession meet bureaucracy, misunderstanding and old school politics once she arrives at Harrison.

Anchoring the story and the doctors’ efforts are Devante and Janina, whose standard but special young love budding romance is fraught with baggage typically carried by people twice their ages. Janina is a veteran of Harrison, while Devante has arrived on his parents’ assignment after a tragedy at his former high school sends his mind into a tailspin.

As all four characters reach conclusions on how they will carry forward now, Gholar balances their voices and perspectives in first-person narration, epistolary narrative, doctors’ notes and even a standalone story within the novel. This sharp range provides readers with a closeness to characters’ private interior lives against the new world they all share.

Author Tiffany Gholar

Author Tiffany Gholar

The author takes us behind the book to discuss her motivations, art and personal connections to A Bitter Pill to Swallow.

What is the history behind the novel? A Bitter Pill to Swallow started out as a short story I wrote in a summer creative writing class when I was 14 in 1993. One of the things that inspired me was an episode of Quantum Leap called “Shock Theater.” The tragedy Devante experiences in his backstory was inspired by an actual event that I read about as a teenager and never forgot.

As a visual artist, what about working in the format of writing is significant to building a work of art? The original title was “Crazy Pill Syndrome.” Janina’s story-within-a-story, “Psindrome,” is taken from the old version of the book as well as the sequel I outlined for it. I still have the first draft, written in purple ink in a pink spiral-bound notebook.

Share come of the challenges you encountered with the book, in both its making and writing. An English teacher I had my senior year of high school and didn’t get along with wrote a snarky comment on a short story I wrote for his class, saying it didn’t count as a short story because it was really just the first chapter of my “novel.” (Yes, he used quotes.) As it so happens, “A Reason to Die” did become the first chapter, though I made many changes to it over the years. Adapting A Bitter Pill to Swallow into a screenplay was my thesis project in college. I hated my script so much that I tried to set it on fire once.

What are some unique personal connections you share with the novel behind what readers will see? Devante is named after a singer from 90’s R&B group Jodeci. Monica is also named after a popular singer. Janina’s dad is named after Marvin Gaye. I was inspired to work on my story again after many years when I saw Quvenzhane Wallis in her amazing performance in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and thought she would be great as Janina once she was old enough.

This work is really representative of your homage and commemoration to so many aspects of growing up in the 90s, as I did as well. What is a fun part of your life then still living on through A Bitter Pill to Swallow? The sweater I’m wearing in my author photo is from 1994. I saved it from high school because it was my favorite sweater freshman year of high school. My mom bought it for me.

To become a reader and fan of Tiffany Gholar and A Bitter Pill to Swallow:

(All images courtesy of the author.)

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